Magazine article Newsweek

The Mind-Body Problem

Magazine article Newsweek

The Mind-Body Problem

Article excerpt

Byline: David Ansen

The hero of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' can move only one eye -- but he sure does get around.

Jean-Dominique Bauby, the sybaritic, sophisticated, womanizing editor of French Elle, was 43 when he suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed with "locked-in syndrome." This man of the world was suddenly a prisoner in his own immobile body. Only one eye worked, his left, which he could blink -- and that blink proved his lifeline to the outside world. It enabled him to say yes and no, and over a period of 14 months he composed, one letter at a time, a best-selling memoir called "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," which Julian Schnabel has turned into a stunning film -- a moving demonstration of the power of one man's imagination to transcend the limits of his body.

You may think you've seen one too many "uplifting" tales of handicapped heroes overcoming adversity: they are a staple of our therapeutically inclined culture. Leaving aside "My Left Foot," most of these movies are more earnest than artful, and they go down like medicine. "Diving Bell" is something else: ravishing to look at, mercifully unsentimental, blissfully avoiding almost every cliche of the genre. Schnabel, screenwriter Ronald Harwood (whose English-language dialogue was translated into French) and Spielberg's great cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have found a way to take us inside Bauby's mind -- his memories, his fantasies, his loves and lusts -- transforming a story of physical entrapment and spiritual renewal into exhilarating images.

At first, we can see only what "Jean-Do" (Matthieu Amalric) can: the camera is his eye, and we share his blurry, confused perception -- and his claustrophobia and terror -- as doctors and nurses hover over him, discussing his case, testing his responses, breaking the dire news. …

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